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Association between passive jobs and low levels of leisure-time physical activity: the Whitehall II cohort study
  1. D Gimeno1,2,3,
  2. M Elovainio1,4,
  3. M Jokela1,5,
  4. R De Vogli1,
  5. M G Marmot1,
  6. M Kivimäki1,6
  1. 1
    Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, UCL Medical School, London, UK
  2. 2
    The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, Division of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences, San Antonio, Texas, USA
  3. 3
    The Institute for Work and Health, Toronto, Canada
  4. 4
    National Research and Development Centre of Welfare and Health (STAKES), Helsinki, Finland
  5. 5
    Department of Psychology, University of Helsinki, Finland
  6. 6
    Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, Helsinki, Finland
  1. Correspondence to David Gimeno, International Institute for Society and Health, Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, University College London, 1-19 Torrington Place, London WC1E 6BT, UK; d.gimeno{at}


Background: There is mixed evidence on the association between psychosocial work exposures (ie, passive jobs) and physical activity, but previous studies did not take into account the effect of cumulative exposures nor did they examine different trajectories in exposure. We investigated whether exposure to passive jobs, measured three times over an average of 5 years, is associated with leisure-time physical activity (LTPA).

Methods: Data were from working men (n = 4291) and women (n = 1794) aged 35–55 years who participated in the first three phases of the Whitehall II prospective cohort. Exposure to passive jobs was measured at each phase and LTPA at phases 1 and 3. Participants were categorised according to whether or not they worked in a passive job at each phase, leading to a scale ranging from 0 (non-passive job at all three phases) to 3 (passive job at all three phases). Poisson regression with robust variance estimates were used to assess the prevalence ratios of low LTPA.

Results: An association was found in men between exposure to passive jobs over 5 years and low LTPA at follow-up, independently of other relevant risk factors. The prevalence ratio for low LTPA in men was 1.16 (95% CI 1.01 to 1.33) times greater for employees with three reports of passive job than for those who had never worked in passive jobs. No association was observed in women.

Conclusion: This study provides evidence that working in passive jobs may encourage a passive lifestyle in men.

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  • Contributors DG conducted all the analyses, wrote the first draft and completed the revisions. MK helped to conceptualise the study and advised in the analyses. All the authors contributed to manuscript revision. MGM directs the Whitehall II study. DG is the guarantor.

  • Funding The Whitehall II study was supported by grants from the Medical Research Council; Economic and Social Research Council; British Heart Foundation; Health and Safety Executive; Department of Health; National Heart Lung and Blood Institute (HL36310), US, NIH; National Institute on Aging (AG13196), US, NIH; Agency for Health Care Policy Research (HS06516); and the John D and Catherine T MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Successful Midlife Development and Socioeconomic Status and Health. MGM is supported by an MRC research professorship. MK and ME are supported by the Academy of Finland (MK and ME by grants 117604 and MK also by grants 124271 and 124322). DG was supported by the National Institutes of Health, National Institute on Ageing (grant AG13196).

  • Competing interests None.

  • Ethics approval The University College London Medical School Committee on the Ethics of Human Research approved the protocol.

  • Patient consent Obtained.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.